Giovanni Battista VITALI (1632-1692)
Sonatas Op. XI
Varie Sonate alla Francese e all'Italiana a 6 Op. 11 (1684) [52.47]
Toccata for Solo violin [1.25]
Barabano [2.01]
Semperconsort/Luigi Cozzolino (violin and director)
rec. Villa di Bivigliano, Bivigliano, Florence 9-11 August 2008

Vitali is a name that is new to me. He was a virtuoso on the violone and violoncello who settled in Modena in 1674 as part of the musical establishment of the Duke, Francesco II. The Duke was a particularly cultivated prince and a keen amateur violinist. His sister, Maria Beatrice became James II’s second wife, better known to us as Mary of Modena.

Vitali’s Op. 11 dates from 1684 and consists of ten suites of variable length, concluding with a Sinfonia. The work is described as Varie Sonate alla Francese e all’Italiana a 6. In the printed introduction to the work, Vitali states ‘this work although composed for six instruments can be played by the first violin alone with violone’. This use of what the CD booklet calls the ‘variable geometry’ of the ensemble was a feature of the Modenese court practice at the time.

The suites vary between French and Italian influence, which the CD booklet describes as ‘foot music’ and ‘ear music’. The French suites are heavily based on French-style dances whereas the Italian suites include more complex harmonies and contrapuntal elements. A sonata alla Francese was not so much in the French style, as one capable of being danced to.

Here the suites are presented by the SemperConsort, a group founded by Luigi Cozzolino in 1995 and here consists of three violins, alto viola, tenor viola, violone, spinet/organ and theorbo/lute.

I was very taken with the music on this disc and the lively and rhythmic performances. The ensemble ring the changes and allow the textures to change between movements, either by altering the continuo instruments or by, apparently thinning out some of the inner parts. I do have a slight problem with their use of an organ. I am not sure whether or not this is genuinely authentic period practice, but perhaps it would be allowable anyway given that the All'Italiana style has its origins in the Sonata da Chiesa.

The majority of movements are quite short; many around a minute. This means that none ever outstays its welcome.

In the booklet which accompanies the CD, there is passing reference made to the additional movements from other works by Vitali which are included on the disc. It is not clear which movements these are, which is rather frustrating. The disc concludes with a selection of other movements, assembled into a sort of suite, including a Grave written as a pastiche by Luigi Cozzolino. This includes a lively movement for solo guitar arranged for the full ensemble. But it seems other elements have been introduced as well. It would have been nice to know exactly what we were listening to.

This is a delightful disc, played in an infectious and enthusiastic manner. As performed here, Vitali's music does seem to speak with a distinctive voice, one which is full of liveliness and charm.

Robert Hugill

Full of liveliness and charm.